Specialty lumber production at Western Forest Products’ Cowichan Bay sawmill. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

LETTER: Western Forest Products remains focused on B.C. employment

$350 million invested on B.C. coast in last six years, CEO says

Re: Another B.C. forest company looks south for lumber mill expansion (Business, Feb. 2)

Thank you for continuing to write about the forest industry, which as a key driver of the provincial economy is critically important to families and communities across the province. I would like to provide further context to Tom Fletcher’s article.

On Friday, Feb. 1, we completed our acquisition of Columbia Vista sawmill located in Vancouver, Washington. This acquisition supports our overall business and employment in B.C. as it enables us to meet the needs of our customers who are demanding more Douglas fir products. By combining Columbia Vista’s Douglas fir specialty products with Western’s B.C. hemlock production, we can secure the relationship with our customers by consistently meeting the demands of their businesses through our ability to deliver the products they want, in the quantities they need, when they need them.

Over the last six years, Western has invested over $350 million in our B.C. business. This represents the largest investment in coastal sawmilling, of any company, in decades. These investments enable Western to employ more than 3,500 people in our company and contractor operations. At Western, it is our goal to sustainably grow, harvest and manufacture the full profile of the coastal forest. This practice is essential to maintaining a viable forest sector and healthy resilient forests.

We remain fully committed to domestic manufacturing, and like the provincial government, we too would like to see more logs made available to local sawmills. It should be noted that last year Western exported less than three per cent of the logs we harvested.

Unfortunately, despite the best lumber market in memory and our commitment to local manufacturing, we were unable to access the log supply we required to utilize the full operating potential of our mills. As markets have now taken a downturn and log costs remain persistently high, we must re-evaluate our log export program to ensure we can continue to provide jobs in our harvesting business to support our employees and communities.

Lumber producers on the coast of B.C. are faced with the highest duty costs on lumber shipments into the U.S. of any region in Canada. We also must compete for logs with jurisdictions like Japan that offer massive subsidies to their forest products industries allowing them to pay more for the B.C. logs they import.

We remain committed to working with the government to support our industry in creating business hosting conditions and an operating environment that will keep us competitive while avoiding policies that add costs or further restrict supply to global lumber customers. A positive, competitive operating environment will not only benefit the businesses that have invested here but will also benefit all 24,000 coastal forest sector employees, First Nations, communities and all British Columbians.

Don Demens, President and CEO, Western Forest Products

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